Noticeable omissions in ASEAN human rights

Stuck behind China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang during a press briefing at the summit
Stuck behind China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang during a press briefing at the summit

An excerpt from my wrap-up post from the 21st ASEAN Summit on investvine.

Arriving back in Bangkok after covering the 21stASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh for four days, I am left pondering some of the more overlooked outcomes of the international event in which media has by and large used to amplify disputes in the South China Sea.

If Beijing and ASEAN leaders had hoped to employ idiosyncratic pragmatic policies to force focus on economic issues, they might be feeling a bit disheartened in what has come to be. Instead, less headline-grabbing topics revolving around economic integration were greatly overshadowed by Obama’s two historic visits to Myanmar and Cambodia, the latter of which he made no public appearances and used to address the less-than-favourable human rights record within.

This is a highly pertinent move as the summit saw the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration by the leaders of the 10 member states, the first stepping-stone on the road to a legally binding treaty. It should be noted that this is a merely a declaration, which carries no legal obligations but signifies moral commitment, compared to more weighty convention.

If the declaration’s gestation period can be said to have been troubled, then its birthing was equally problematic.

The drafting process came under fierce scrutiny from international organisations and civil society because of its lack of transparency, a “closed door” policy that subsequently lead UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to say that “this is not the hallmark of the democratic global governance to which ASEAN aspires, and it will only serve to undermine the respect and ownership that such an important declaration deserves.”

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